Slide-Out Room Care and Feeding
When the slide-out room was introduced, it revolutionized the RV industry. The benefits were universal—manufacturers could create new and exciting floor plans to attract customers, while potential buyers were lured by the “like home” attributes of these new RVs. Soon came double, triple, quad slide-outs and today, full wall slide-outs have become commonplace.
Though slide-out rooms were once an exclusive attribute of high-end motorhomes, today they can even be found on some smaller, entry-level units. Indeed, slide-out rooms have become an integral part of the RV lifestyle, and as such, it behooves you to learn a little bit about them, and how to ensure their reliable operation for as long as you own your trailer or motorhome.
First and foremost, not all slide-outs are created equal. Though there are still two basic categories, electric and hydraulic, electric slide mechanisms are far and away the more popular type in today’s RVs, because they’re less expensive and easy to install. That said, about the only thing electric slide systems have in common is their power source; each slide system manufacturer has its own unique drive system, be it rack and pinion, screw drive, chain/cable or some other design.
Fortunately for you, the slide-out owner, all of these different systems have been designed with one goal in mind: maintenance-free operation. In most cases, there’s nothing that needs service on a regular basis, because the gear motor is sealed, and permanently lubricated bearings are employed. Moreover, none of the critical components are exposed to the elements by design, so there’s no risk of dirt contamination or corrosion.
Regardless of the system your coach has, one thing you can do is inspect the slide-out’s wiper seals. Make sure there’s no dirt or mud around the room, and wipe dirty seals clean with a wet towel when needed. Most of the manufacturers we spoke to say that’s all that is necessary–as long as the room can move in and out smoothly, no lubricants or other products are required.
Fortunately, keeping dirt down to a minimum is something all of us can handle. If you’ve been on an extended stay with the slide outs deployed, always check for dirt, sand, pine needles/leaves and other debris before breaking camp. Most slide-outs are equipped with “slide topper” awnings that keep the bulk of damaging dirt off the top side, but you need to check the sides of the room as well. After storage, run the rooms in and out. Clean them carefully with a pressure washer or high-pressure hose to remove any dirt or sand that may have accumulated.
In most instances, you won’t have to address the bottom of the slide room, but there are exceptions. For example, if you’ve recently experienced a dust storm in your campsite, you might want to examine any external components for contamination, and wipe off any dirt you see with a clean rag. One thing slide manufacturers don’t want you to do is spray anything with a degreaser. Some systems use lube-impregnated bearings, and a degreaser can break down the lube inside of them and damage other parts. If you want to clean the parts off, spray a small amount of degreaser on a clean rag and wipe them down.
If you do choose to clean the exposed components, you’ll wipe the lube away with the dirt, so you’ll need to replace it. Heavy-duty bearing grease can be used on gears, actuators and screw mechanisms, while white lithium spray grease will suffice on lighter-duty components. An RV repair center or dealer service center can tell you what to use if you’re in doubt.
More often than not, a lack of basic common sense is what most often causes damage to a slide-out or system. When extending or retracting a slide-out, watch the room from inside and out to make sure there are no potential hazards. That means broom handles, ladders, bikes, etc. on the outside, and area rugs and other items on the inside that can jamb the slide as it is retracted.
Another, less obvious cause of slide-out damage occurs when the slide-out is deployed before the coach is leveled. On uneven ground, the coach’s chassis can twist, creating slide openings that become out of square. It’s not hard to imagine what happens when a square slide room tries to exit an opening that isn’t. Many newer coaches are equipped with an interlock feature that prevents the slides from deploying until the coach is level, but earlier and/or entry-level models may not have this feature. If this describes your coach, place some sort of a reminder on the slide control, such as a note, that tells you to level first, slide later. Even if you already know this, someone else in your coach may not, and it only takes one time to cause significant damage.
If you find yourself in a worst-case scenario, and the slide room ceases to function, what can you do? The good news is, every power slide mechanism we’re aware of has some way to at least manually retract the slide—after all, you can drive with a slide that’s stuck in, but not one that’s stuck out. Take some time now to find out how your slide(s) can be manually retracted if necessary, and save yourself some stress if it happens to you on the road.
A word of caution: Manual slide retraction should be considered an emergency measure, and you should seek immediate repair to prevent further damage. Re-deploying the slide manually can damage the mechanicals, as the load may not be balanced from one side to the other.
Like any other component in your coach, slide-out rooms can provide you with years of reliable service—and all you have to do is pay attention to them once in a while.